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The Chris King GRD23 R45D is one of the most expensive gravel wheelsets we've ever come across. They're dripping with premium Chris King components, and feature an innovative new type of rim material that helps to make gravel riding more comfortable without sacrificing performance. They're not the lightest, though, nor are they the widest kind of gravel wheel out there, and you can certainly find better performance for less.
Chris King is widely known for its high-quality hubs, headsets and bottom brackets. Wheels, though? Not so much. But that's all changed this year as the company is dipping its toes in the water, first with the Chris King MTN30, a wheelset aimed at mountain bike riders, and second with these GRD23 gravel wheels.
What makes the company able to take on the big players in a well established game? A few reasons: Chris King already makes its own premium hubs, and it's already been lacing said hubs to a variety of high-end rims for some time now (Enve and Zipp, to name just a couple), so the wheel-building skills are certainly there. Most importantly, though, Chris King has spotted an opportunity in the market not being served by current carbon wheelsets that it says trade comfort for stiffness.
Instead of conventional carbon fibre, Chris King is using FusionFiber for its rims, which is 'a cutting edge thermoplastic that incorporates long-chain polymers'. FusionFiber still uses carbon fibres, but instead of gluing them together using a thermoset process, the bonding agent is this advanced polymer – malleable at a specific temperature, hardening when it cools.
The GRD23 rim is designed to offer more comfort than a conventional carbon one when you're off the beaten track, with 'a wider range of compliance profiles'. That's not to say it's designed to feel like a soggy sponge over the rough stuff – rather, it's been tuned to have a better balance between comfort and stiffness.
Another useful benefit of the use of thermoplastic over carbon fibre is that the rim is recyclable. This is down to the use of those long-chain polymers, as opposed to the typical epoxies used to glue carbon fibres together. The polymers in the FusionFiber rim can be reversed and the rim can be rebuilt.
If you somehow manage to break it, Chris King will replace your whole wheel totally free of charge with a brand new one, in the process recycling the old rim to make a new one. I like that idea – it doesn't completely cut out the environmental cost of making it in the first place, but it goes some way to taking responsibility for the impact of carbon fibre rims that will inevitably end up in landfill if they break.
That said, I do wonder how regularly people break carbon fibre rims – I can't imagine it's that often. Other than having a massive prang on a bit of rough stuff... It's not like the old days where rim brakes would eventually wear them out, being that gravel bikes exclusively use disc brakes these days.
Other than the material construction, the Chris King GRD23 rims measure 23mm wide internally, 29mm externally, and have a rim depth of 24mm. With most new gravel wheelsets coming in at around the 25mm mark internally, the GRD23 wheels certainly aren't the widest out there, but they're wide enough to take the majority of gravel tyres and do them justice. Chris King recommends tyres between 32 and 45mm wide (though apparently 28-50mm is acceptable). Because the rims are hookless, the tyres need to be tubeless ready, too.
I fitted a set of Panaracer's excellent Gravel King SKs in a 43mm width. They were easy enough to get on – at least as easy as on my own carbon gravel wheels which are slightly wider (25mm) internally. With a tubeless-specific pump, they popped on the Chris King wheels without any issues, and had no problem holding pressure.
Although the Gravel King SKs often come up slightly bigger (they're over 2mm wider on my carbon gravel wheels), in this case they measured bang on 43mm.
As I mentioned, the hubs are Chris King's own – in this instance, the R45D Centerlock front and rear, which are available in a wide range of colours (though no purple to match my bike's headset, sadly). Like the rims, the hubs are built in Portland, Oregon. Freehub choices consist of Shimano HG or SRAM XDR – there's no Campagnolo option. You can also spec the bearings in ceramic for an extra $100, though that option didn't seem to be available through the UK distributor Saddleback's website when I checked.
Chris King says the hubs are easily serviceable and rebuildable, but you'll need the R45 Hub Service Tool to do so, which costs about £200 online, depending where you look.
Speaking of additional costs, there's no lockring included with the wheelset, so you'll have to buy a pair, or you might already have those that came with your bike's original wheels. The use of the Center Lock standard makes fitment easy, though fitting the rear disc and cassette involved removing the end caps from both sides, which wasn't exactly difficult but meant it was slightly more involved than other Center Lock wheels I've tested.
The 24-hole hubs are laced to Sapim CX-Ray Spokes and Sapim Alloy Nipples, which are probably the only part of the wheelset not made by Chris King. Elsewhere, the wheels come with tubeless tape and Chris King's own tubeless valves fitted.
Chris King claims a wheelset weight of 1,468g, though they came in at 1,510g on the road.cc Scales of Truth, which is a little bit heavy for wheels with a shallow rim depth. By comparison, Roval's Terra CLX wheelset, for instance, has carbon fibre rims at a depth of 32mm, and weighs just 1,296g.
Did Chris King's FusionFiber technology make a difference to the ride quality over other carbon gravel wheelsets I've tested? In all honesty, it's really hard to say. Trying to discern small differences is never going to be easy, especially when there are many variables at play, but based on the variety of terrain I rode during testing, this is what I found.
Fitted to my Ribble CGR Ti, which normally wears gravel-specific carbon wheels, the first thing I noticed was how aesthetically pleasing the GRD23s are, with an eye-catching weave to the shallow FusionFiber rim. They certainly make a bit of a statement that you wouldn't normally get with matt black carbon wheels.
My first major ride was a 68-mile on and off-road route around Somerset, taking in the sights of Glastonbury Tor, Burnham-on-Sea's beach, and a gruelling climb up Cheddar Gorge. The majority of tarmac was fairly smooth, but some of the off-road parts were particularly challenging, better suited to the likes of a mountain goat than a gravel bike. Even with the tyres set to a fairly comfortable 32psi all-round, I couldn't feel any difference in comfort over my carbon wheels, but nothing short of full suspension would have improved matters.
I then rode a 64-mile gravel trail in the New Forest. We're talking proper gravel, not this lumpy, bumpy nonsense. Here, effectively in the wheelset's element, the bike felt very comfortable and composed, and at the end of the five-hour ride I didn't feel like I'd had my fillings shaken out. So, the GRD23s are certainly very comfortable – but more comfortable than my own carbon wheels? Again, hard to say.
The rear hub also makes a very pleasing purr when you're coasting – Chris King says it comes with the 'legendary angry-bee sound' but if that's what you're after you'll be disappointed. This is the least angry bee you could think of.
Those 45 teeth in the hub also equate to the wheels being very responsive to pedal inputs, but bearing in mind their 1,500g-plus weight, these aren't the best choice if you're looking for a lightweight option for tackling ascents.
If you're looking for bang for buck, you might want to step out of the room for a second. The breathtaking price tag of £3,000 makes these one of the most expensive gravel wheelsets out there, besting even the high-priced Corima G30.5 Carbon Gravel Wheelset we tested a couple of years back at 'just' £2,010 – though it's still overshadowed somewhat by the Enve G23 wheelset at £3,150 (read our review from 2019 here).
There's no denying the GRD23 is a premium wheelset, handbuilt with some very exotic components, and there's some innovative rim technology going on here. Crucially, you also get a lifetime warranty, which comes with the aforementioned no-fuss wheel replacement. Still, it's hard to justify when there are much cheaper alternatives out there, which have just as good, if not better performance.
For instance, sister site off.road.cc gave a five star rating to the Scribe Carbon Gravel Wide++ 700 Disc Wheelset, highlighting its low weight of 1,360g, comfort, stiffness and reasonable price tag of £870. Internally, they're wider at 25mm, too.
Though we've not tested them, the Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon tubeless disc brake wheels come in at just over half the price of the Chris King GRD23s, but are much lighter at a claimed 1,352g, have a wider internal rim, and even throw a little bit of aero into the mix with a 40mm rim depth.
To be willing to part with £3,000 for a gravel wheelset, you really have to want those wheels badly. Do the GRD23s deliver? I do feel that Chris King has come up with a solid alternative to conventional carbon wheels for several reasons: you theoretically get a bit more compliance with the FusionFiber rims (though you might not notice it), they're a bit better for the environment, and the lifetime warranty is great. But in terms of overall performance they don't do anything particularly outstanding, at least nothing that would justify the price tag.
High-quality, innovative gravel wheelset offering a comfortable ride – but would you look at the price!
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Chris King GRD23 R45D Wheelset
Size tested: 700C, 45mm deep
Tell us what the wheel is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Chris King says, "We came out with our own wheel because we got the opportunity to participate in the development of a new rim, a rim that is of outstanding quality, is tuned to our performance specs, and is made of a recyclable material that doesn't add to landfills keeping us in line with our commitment to the environment and being a certified B - corp. Performance, good looks, minimal carbon impact, AND backed up by a lifetime warranty? Yes please."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Chris King lists:
Built in-house with legendary Chris King precision
Made in the USA
24 hole Chris King R45D Centerlock hubs
Centerlock Lock ring sold separately and required for installation
Tubeless Tape and Valve Kit included with this wheelset
King Lifetime warranty
Chris King components feature throughout, and it's all been put together to a high level of quality.
The FusionFiber rim does offer a comfortable ride over gravel. Their performance is decent – they're not the lightest, but they roll well, feel very stable over a variety of surfaces, and the gorgeous sounding freehub engages quickly.
They look set to last a long time, though FusionFiber is a relatively new rim technology so it's hard to comment on its durability.
Okay, but definitely not the lightest option – there are plenty of carbon gravel wheels at least 100-150g lighter.
You're getting a very well-built wheel with some innovative new rim tech going on, but I'm not convinced the overall performance justifies the price disparity over rivals.
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Panaracer GravelKing SK 43mm tyres fitted no problem with the help of a tubeless-specific inflator.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
There are no lockrings or spare skewers included, but you do get rim tape and Chris King valves which are very nice quality.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They're designed to be a bit more compliant than other carbon wheels without losing any stiffness – and in my opinion they delivered that.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Comfortable, enjoyable ride over gravel.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
They're not the lightest – perhaps the penalty of using FusionFiber over usual carbon fibre.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're more expensive than nearly every gravel wheelset we've tested, only just outclassed in the price department by the Enve G23s. For just over half the price, the Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon tubeless disc brake wheelset offers a lot more bang for buck, though we can't comment on their comfort. Even the Scribe Carbon Gravel Wide++ 700 Disc Wheelset was highly rated by off.road.cc and they're less than a third of the price of the Chris Kings.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Not a chance.
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Probably not.
Use this box to explain your overall score
It's hard to recommend this wheelset given the high price tag. Yes, you do get a very high quality wheelset built with some very nice components, and the FusionFiber tech does seem to be effective, but you're paying a huge premium over cheaper carbon wheels that offer much more bang for your buck as far as gravel wheels are concerned.
About the tester
I usually ride: Condor Italia RC custom build My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, sportives, mtb,